Realestate.co.nz releases a new version of it successful mobile app for iPhone

by Alistair Helm in ,


Update 2 April

This article was written on the 27th March based on the then Version 2.0.1 of the app. On the 1st April a Version 2.0.2 was released that has dealt to all of the issues in this post. 

I am pleased that the company was able to respond so speedily to these issues which I judged to be significant. Clearly the development team is passionate and responsive, it is just a pity that inadequate testing lead to the Version 2 and Version 2.0.1 release without user testing. My opinion of this app has always been positive as in my mind it remains the best app for the iPhone on the market.

************************

There is no doubt that Realestate.co.nz gained a significant advantage over Trade Me Property when it launched its iPhone app in November 2010. It would be another 2 years before Trade Me released their first dedicated iOS property app. That early advantage has been key to the brand’s development and appeal over these past 4 years.

So, more than 3 years after its initial launch and save for a couple of bug fixes and an upgrade to allow for synchronisation of favourites; Realestate has recently released a whole new Version 2 of its app and I have been naturally keen to try it out to assess the developments that have been implemented.

Quoting their own summation of the changes on the App store, the new app delivers these benefits:

As they also rightly point out one of the great new features is that there is now a true iPad version - something long overdue as Trade Me Property has been the only purpose designed iPad property app for nearly 2 years.

Mobile apps are critical for property portals as the trend is ever more focused to mobile usage when searching for property. In the US, UK and Australia, the leading portals attract well over half of all visitors via a mobile device, with the US portal Zillow claiming weekend mobile activity approaches 70% of traffic. With this as a backdrop, delivering the best user experience on the mobile platform is critical for any property portals. 

Sadly I have to report that Realestate.co.nz appears to have let itself down with this V2 in what appears to be a 1 step forward, 2 steps back release. Whether it is a case of a rushed release or inadequate testing, this version has some serious weaknesses. This could have very serious consequences on the brand and the business especially considering how competitive this portal space is today in NZ. (By the way, I have deliberately waited a couple of weeks after the initial release of V2 to write this review to ensure that if they had spotted these issues, then I was prepared to allow them time to correct these issues. In fact they have already released an update with V2.1 a couple of weeks after the V2.0, however as I see it and detail below there remain serious shortfalls).

Let me work my way through the features, benefits and my critique of the this app on the iPhone, I will leave the evaluation of the iPad for another article.

iPhone app

First impressions

The start up of the new app is in many ways cleaner and clearer than before. There is no home screen. Instead the first screen takes you immediately to a local map indexed to your location - great! exactly how the user wants to engage with mobile real estate “show my what’s for sale around me”. In the same way as before listings are signified by red pins with open homes and new listings using cleaner iOS7 icons than the prior flag icon - nice.

Untitled_2.png

Touching a listing pin shows the address exactly as before. However I continue to maintain that this is a missed opportunity as most other property apps bring up a thumbnail image of the property or some details in brief vital to make searching easier, as it avoids having to move through to the listing to validate the property, as ably demonstrated by the example from Realestate.com.au.

When you do go through to the listing you do get the same details page with the great image viewer as smooth as ever. Overall the format is certainly cleaner, very reflective of the iOS7 template.

On each listing the key tabs of Details, Inspection, Affordability and Agent are arranged neatly and carry out the same functionality as previously.

Another missed opportunity in my eyes though is the enquire service. With such extensive usage on the smart phone of this app, why could the enquire service not include a text message integration with the phone - certainly there is a cost associated with sending what may be thousands of texts, but the value would far outweigh the cost. The only option is to type in an email which does not pre-populate with your details as a default.

Map Search

Back to the map, and the first functionality change that frustrated me. In the original V1 version there was a clear ‘Refine” button which allowed you to filter your search on any chosen map area. At first viewing I found no refine button. Trial and error lead me to the search button which had the required filters. However upon making this necessary filter of beds, baths and price; I tap the search icon fully expecting to be taken back to the local map - no! I now get a map of the whole country filtered for my 3 beds, 2 baths $500,000 to $600,000 !!

This is a serious issue as all I wanted to do was refine my local search - I was after all doing a local search around me. After picking up my iPhone back from the corner of the room where I had thrown it… I thought to try the GPS location icon at the top of the screen and low and behold I am back to my local map. Why oh why do I have to jump through hoops now, to do what used to be so easy!!

2014-03-27_19_21_53_png.png

This experience really concerns me as one of the beautiful user experiences I liked with the original version was to effectively “fly around the country” seeking out what is for sale based on the map search - how can I now do this now, when if I want to refine my search, I end up looking at the  whole country?

After random trial and error sometime later I did notice that in the search options there is a filter that says ‘Current Map Location’ - but it is by no means easy to find hidden as it is under Regions! User testing would have highlighted this shortfall I am sure.

 

Search refinement

Another grumble in what I would have hoped would be an improved V2 of the app would be around the search filters of beds, baths and price. The ideal I would have thought would be to replicate search filters of the web on the mobile app - allowing for example to be able to search for properties having between 2 and 3 bedrooms. No - you can only choose 2+ on the app, which clearly gives you 2,3,4 and 5 bedroom houses. Also the website allows for 25 price segments, whereas the app you have to choose from just 16 - hardly a ‘mobile-first’ approach.

Synchronisation with Favourites

Some of these preceding issues may seem small and in someways they are, however the next one is a whopper. Where has the synchronisation between the web and mobile app gone if you have an iPhone 4 or 4S?

Simply put, the developers of this app clearly only tested on the iPhone 5 for as the screenshot below demonstrates the layout is optimised for the longer screen of the iPhone 5. On a 4 or 4S the bottom of the screen is cut off thereby effectively relegating owners of these models to a far inferior app! I thought that the V2.1 would fix this - but not happening. It’s like I can see where the function link is in the filter section but it looks to be hidden? 

Listing Search

Another significant failure of the app is the ability to search by listing number. The search function has a classic search box as in the original version to allow access to a single listing by entering a listing number, so allowing you want to look up details on a property having seen it in a newspaper or street sign. Try as you might (as I have done) it does not work. Worse still some listing numbers take you to other places in the world - try 013 and you end up in northern Holland, 0555 takes you to Pensacola in Alabama!

I did after a couple of tries notice this small text below the search box "Start Property ID with a #"! - how bizarre, this was not a requirement of the original version of the app, why now do I need to add a # to the ID number? - sadly this advice proved useless as adding the # did not aid searching - the search by ID number seems broken - please fix! 

The example below demonstrates the issue. Listing number BOT21586 is a 3 bedroom property for sale in Pakuranga, one of thousands of such properties for sale. Enter BOT21586 on the app and you get a notice "No location could be found", search #BOT21586 on the app and you get a notice "No listings with that number could be found" - but do a map search for 12 Elizabeth Street and the listing can be found on the app and the listing on the app has the listing number #BOT21586 !

Enough of the negatives I hear you cry! - so what can I praise ? - well the open home calendar sync is beautiful and super smooth. The open home times are laid out in a logical position and tapping the chosen time and adding it to your calendar is great. There you go.

Other than that and the above mentioned examples of issues, I still think this is a good app. I am just surprised and disappointed that the app does not seem to have been tested adequately.  In my opinion technical developments of this nature have to take a significant step forward and add features that enhance the experience. I would have to say that overall this version 2 is a case of form over function, of a desire to create an iOS7 look driven by the need for an iPad app which then spawned a iPhone app as a secondary outcome with many resulting issues.

It will be interesting to see if these issues are addressed in the coming months.

 

Disclaimer: I was formerly the CEO of Realestate.co.nz from 2006 to 2012. I now have no relationship with the company, nor with its competitor Trade Me Property. I have written this review as an impartial objective analyst and commentator on the real estate industry in NZ and overseas. In my current role I do advise and assist other property portals in other countries on strategy and operations and thereby judge that I am in a position to offer such a review, for no other reason than professional advice.


Realestate.co.nz iPhone update - the return of Google Maps

by Alistair Helm in


Realestate for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad on the iTunes App Store.png

It was just over a year ago that Apple took a bold step that ultimately lead to massive backlash, as it deleted Google Maps as the default mapping platform for iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) and replaced it with Apple maps. Now in many countries the change was not so bad, but in NZ the change was dramatic especially when viewed by satellite image.

Apple had not even come close to providing the resolution quality of Google Maps - so for Apple iPhone and iPad users they had to accept that situation or download another app such as MapQuest, at least until December last year, when a native Google Maps app appeared in the apps store.

However for applications such as the Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz apps which rely so heavily on the default mapping platform, there was at the time no alternative and as such the user experience fell seriously backwards in June last year with a very poor low resolution experience for satellite view of property on the app.

Now I am delighted to see that Realestate.co.nz has released a new version of the app (Version 1.5) which uses Google maps again as the underlying platform layer for satellite and street maps. 

It's funny but it is not until something is taken away do you realise how much you missed it! 

This return to the Google maps layer for the Realestate.co.nz suddenly in my mind catapults the app far ahead of Trade Me Property app, a far cry from the rating I gave it just 4 months ago - especially as both now have synced integration of saved properties between web and mobile. 

Just look at the side by side comparison between the apps for the same property on the market. The image on the left for the current version of the Trade Me Property app in satellite view mode is the highest zoom before you loose image - the Realestate.conz app on the right uses the same zoom - staggering difference!!

Trade me app vs Realestate.co.nz app.png

Then the Realestate.co.nz app satellite view gets even better given the quality of the underlying image resolution allowing the tighter zoom-in as shown from the screen shot on the right. 

 

Zoom in Realestate.co.nz app.png

In my view this now places the Realestate.co.nz app as the must-have for mobile property searching. 


The iPhone holds a great asset for real estate marketing

by Alistair Helm in


The buzz is out there for the new iPhone 5 - some people are just experiencing the iPhone for the very first time without worrying what the latest phone has and how much better it is than the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 4, the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 3G and of course lets not forget the original iPhone - how much progress has been made in this amazing piece of technology since it was launched just 5 years ago! 

However as fast as the versioning of new hardware, has come the new versions of the software; which despite the unforgivable experience with Apple maps has been welcomed as a step forward at each new release of the operating system iOS. 

The latest version of iOS6 holds a rich capability which I am sure will excite real estate agents and those involved with real estate marketing - Panorama imagining

Transient
Transient

I am grateful to Charles Arthur from the Guardian in the UK who brought this to my attention on the excellent Tech Weekly podcast and subsequent article in the Guardian. 

This new feature which sadly only works on the iPhone 4S and the new iPhone 5 allows the most ham-fisted individual to take beautiful panoramic images. Not the hugely distorted fisheye images or the nausia inducing virtual tour ones - no, just simple stitched continuous images that showcase up to 240 degree field of view.

So what has this to do with real estate? 

Well this could be the tool of choice for smart agents that want to be open and share the real streetscape of the property they are marketing or the inside of the rooms. 

I tried it out on my iPhone 4S and the image below is the result of a photo taken in the street of a recent sold listing. It is very much like Google Street View and could be a valuable way to update a Street View perspective of a property if the situation has changed, if for example renovations have been completed. 

Click to enlarge in a lightbox